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Liberal Megatrends and the Degrading of Higher Education, 2010

–Richard E. Vatz, Ph.D.

There is and has been for a long time a general suspicion among conservatives that colleges and universities are hotbeds of liberalism.

Such profound understatement should be expected from naïve critics whose only connection with the academy is the periodic, highly publicized left-wing inexplicable activities (e.g., “Boycott Israel” movements) or decisions by university administrations (e.g., inconsequential and ineffective campus-wide “green” initiatives), and subtle, forgiving academic policy (e.g., grade inflation and a variety of ways to hold students harmless from low grades, such as very late withdrawal from courses and replacing bad grades with re-taken course grades as if the former never occurred). Skeptics should take notice of polls of the college and university professoriate which show the profound dominance of the liberal perspective, albeit with some surveys indicating that the liberal dominance is not far left, but more moderate left.

Perhaps, but the dominance of the left is simply indisputable in the American academy. There are many reasons for and variations of liberal activity and ideological dominance on campuses. Part of the reason is the melioristic bias that Richard Weaver and other conservatives have fought against for decades: that all of society’s inequities can be alleviated by radically redistributing wealth or giving academic dispensations to challenged populations among college and university matriculants.

There is a caveat that should be expressed whenever anyone speaks of ideological bias in academe. There are tremendous differences in enforcement. Some departments make liberalism a hidden, necessary qualification for hiring and promotion and tenure. In the atypical conservative university this criterion of enforcing ideological correctness occurs on the other side of the political divide. And, to be sure, there are universities wherein ideological diversity is accepted. Parenthetically, I believe for the most part that is true at my school, Towson University. Truth be told, I have never known a university with a more unthreatened and decent faculty and student body than Towson, but that story is for another day.

My national organization, the National Communication Association, is an umbrella organization that is a work-in-progress. Its major journals went literally decades in the late 20th century without a kind word for a conservative politician or any other conservative, and its convention panels and participants still discriminate powerfully against conservative perspectives, but it is improving – very slowly, but inexorably.

Universities across the United States are under tremendous budgetary pressure, and their priorities mostly reflect the liberal ethic: little or no cutting of liberal courses, little or no cutting of psychological services (want to guess, dear reader, what universities spend a year for such non-academic services that for the most part did not exist one half-century ago?), and little or no cutting of bureaucratic fat. Incidentally, some people resent the life-long employment that tenured faculty enjoy. At least know that administrations are at most universities de facto tenured.

To save money, non-Research-1 public universities are: 1. adding students to courses; 2. adding to faculty workload; 3. perpetuating their role as Nanny Universities by artificially holding student tuition down in some states, which exacerbates the budgetary crisis; and 4. increasing centralization of decision-making. All of these liberal actions more or less lead to the homogenization of higher education and severely lessen faculty autonomy, the lessening of which is another progressive value. They also detract from the working of the marketplace of ideas, as does the ideological prejudice.

In 2010 American universities are threatened by budgetary shortfalls, technological educational substitution (on-line courses) and liberal ideology.

The syntheses of these forces are hard to predict, precisely, but overall they appear to produce universities which are more homogeneous, centralized, liberal and less ideologically diverse.

It is the McDonaldization of the academy.

Richard Vatz is a professor of communication studies at Towson University

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